- The Issues
- CADNA’s Analyses
- Terms to Know: A Glossary
Members of Congress are at risk of becoming the victims of identity squatting because, similar to celebrities, their names take on a heightened status and essentially become brands, which they can use to promote themselves and their legislative agendas. Campaign materials prominently display candidates’ names with the expectation that voters will remember those names, and the issues the candidates stand for, on Election Day. Domain names, when used properly, can also serve as valuable campaigning tools: a simple .COM or .ORG address featuring the candidate’s name is easy for voters to remember and reinforces the candidate’s identity. Candidates advertise domain names on materials with the hope that voters will type that name directly into their Internet browsers in order to access more information about the candidate and his or her views.
What differentiates names from brands, however, is that there is a higher likelihood of co-occurrence. Even though this study was comprised of a relatively small number of names – 535 in the corresponding 3,210 domain names data set – there were some instances of FullName.com and FullName.org domain names that had already been registered by individuals sharing the same name as the corresponding member of Congress. In these cases, alternative domain names such as FullNameForCongress.com/FullNameForSenate.com and FullNameForCongress.org/FullNameForSenate.org can serve as useful substitutes. For the senators in our study, 69 percent of FullNameForSenate.com domain names are available and 82 percent of FullNameForSenate.org domains are available (see Graph 6). Similarly, 64 percent of FullNameForCongress.com and 86 percent of FullNameforCongress.org domain names examined in this study are available (see Graph 7).
Graph 6 [+]
Graph 7 [+]
Another alternative that seems to be popular among both members of Congress and third parties is LastNameforSenate.com/LastNameForSenate.org and LastNameForCongress.com/LastNameForCongress.org. Of senators, 34 percent own their LastNameForSenate.com domain name, while third parties own 54 percent of those domains; 22 percent of senators own their .ORG equivalent, while third parties own 23 percent of the .ORG domains. The figures are similar for members of the House of Representatives: 40 percent of House members own their LastNameForCongress.com domain names and 23 percent own their LastNameForCongress.org domains. Third parties own 34 percent of the former and 19 percent of the latter.
In addition to those domain names, there are other alternatives that could prove useful as well. For example, if fictional candidate Jane Doe were running for Congress in 2010, she may want to register JaneDoe2010.com, JaneDoeforCongress2010.com, or their .ORG equivalents. There is an almost unlimited amount of permutations from which members of Congress and potential candidates can choose. However, not every domain name is equally desirable, and registrants should use a discerning eye when selecting the best domain name to support their campaign. It was for this reason that we chose to only include the most intuitive, and thus valuable, domain names in our study: FullName.com, FullName.org, LastName.com, LastName.org, FullNameForCongress.com, FullNameForSenate.com, LastNameForSenate.com, LastNameforSenate.org, FullNameForCongress.org, FullNameForSenate.org, LastNameForCongress.com, LastNameForCongress.org.
Finally, it is worth remembering that, once elected, all members of Congress receive official .GOV domain names as well: these sites are usually found at LastName.house.gov for representatives and LastName.senate.gov for senators, although it could be slightly different if one representative has the same last name as another. Having these sites does not negate the value of owning domains like FullName.com or FullName.org, though, since the .GOV extension is typically not appropriate for incumbents to use in their re-election campaigning. A variety of domain names can be used for different and complementary purposes. For example, Sen. John Kerry uses kerry.senate.gov to host information about his voting record and initiatives along with resources for his constituents. He uses JohnKerry.com, though, to share more personal information about himself and his family.
A discussion of any type of squatting, including identity squatting, must address the issue of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) sites. Out of the 924 domain names that are registered to third parties in this data set, 374, or 40 percent, are PPC sites, exclusively serving ads, and even more domains are parked with PPC ads displayed. For members of Congress, one of the biggest problems that PPC sites pose is that they often distract or mislead Internet users. For example, the FullName.com domain for one representative hosts a series of PPC links about depression. While it is unclear why the owner of the site chose to post those links in particular, it is doubtful that the representative wants potential voters forming a mental connection between him or her and depression. In other cases, PPC ads on the website found at the domain name of one member of Congress can lead Internet users to the website of that member of Congress’ competitor, which can be problematic, especially when the representative or senator is up for re-election. One example is Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, who won the Democratic nomination for Senate for the upcoming election. JoeSestak.org is a PPC site, and the third link on the page is for Pat Toomey, who will be running against Rep. Sestak. Below is a screenshot of the page: